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Supreme Court rejects Facebook appeal in EU-US data transfer case

The decision comes after the High Court referred a number of questions to the Court of Justice of the European Union.

Facebook's headquarters in Dublin.
Facebook's headquarters in Dublin.
Image: Niall Carson/PA Images

Updated May 31st 2019, 5:24 PM

THE SUPREME COURT has rejected an appeal by Facebook in a case related to the transfer of personal data from Europe to the US. 

The decision comes after the High Court referred a number of questions to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU)  for its consideration.

The legal action follows a complaint to Ireland’s Data Protection Commissioner (DPC) by Austrian privacy lawyer Max Schrems about Facebook’s use of so-called standard contractual clauses (SCCs) to transfer personal data from Europe to the US.

One of the questions the Supreme Court sought to address was whether Facebook was entitled to appeal the referral to the CJEU.

The Supreme Court ruled that it was open to entertain an appeal against the High Court’s decision but that “there are significant limitations on the issues which this Court can properly consider on such an appeal”.

One such limitation was that the Supreme Court said it could not entertain the terms of the referral to the CJEU. 

“I am also satisfied that it is not appropriate for this Court to entertain an appeal which is directly concerned with the analysis of the High Court leading to a decision by that Court to the effect that it shared the concerns of the DPC. That analysis is inextricably linked with the decision to refer and is not a matter which can properly be pursued on appeal,” chief justice Frank Clarke said in the judgment.

The landmark case by Schrems will have serious repercussions for personal privacy policies and trans-Atlantic business. 

Schrems, an activist who has brought several cases before European courts to strengthen data protection online, has said that controversial data harvesting methods at the centre of the Cambridge Analytica were exactly those he had raised in a complaint before the Irish Data Protection Authority in 2011.

In a statement this afternoon, a spokesperson for Facebook said the company is awaiting the ruling of the CJEU and defended the use of SCCs.

We are grateful for the consideration of the Irish Court and look ahead to the Court of Justice of the European Union to now decide on these complex questions. Standard Contract Clauses provide important safeguards to ensure that Europeans’ data are protected once transferred overseas.

“SCCs have been designed and endorsed by the European Commission and are used by thousands of companies across Europe to do business.”

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Rónán Duffy

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